JOURNAL - 1998 - FEBRUARY
Sunday 8 February 1998
Two weeks since my last entry. What has gone on since then. Last night I took Ads to see Larry Adler, he was on at the Basingstoke Anvil where we’ve never been before. I thought he should go as he might never get a chance to see the world’s most famous harmonica player again. Indeed, he is very old, 84 to be precise, and he doddered on to stage, and he doddered off. We had front row seats so Ads could get a good view of him and his playing. I was expecting the worst, but the evening was not so bad. Firstly, it was all based on Gershwin’s music with lots of extracts from ‘Porgy and Bess’ (which, of course, I took Barbara to see in Rio when Adam was conceived). There was a piano, double bass and drums, as well as a glossy singer. Larry sat in his chair and played along with all the tunes, and told a few jokes and anecdotes here and there. He must have done the same show thousands upon thousands of times. In fact, he must be addicted to performing if he still needs to go on the road at 84. Adam enjoyed the evening more than I thought; he was well gone on Larry, but he didn’t think much of the glittery curvy busty singer. I don’t know if it will inspire him to practise his harmonica more, he’s a bit stuck for teaching material at the moment.
But what a nightmare is Basingstoke, a concrete jungle of highways and shopping blocks and roof car parks. We had to walk for miles to find a pub outside of the concrete shopping centre area. Oddly, my brother Julian and Sarah were in Basingstoke last night, Mum tells me. Mum also tells me that IG, my grandfather (and Adam’s great grandfather), knew Larry Adler!
I’ve had my visit from the Sirius representative - this afternoon. We had a gentle chat and she went through my form, she asked me a few questions and that was it. It’s her job to write the creative blurb about each person which goes on the form to be sent to prospective partners. She seemed to have a good idea of all the people on Sirius’s books in the area, and volunteered that ‘I was asking a lot’ although she did know of one person she thought might be interested. ‘One!’ I said; ‘That’s all you need,’ she said. But I forgot to ask how I would identify her. Have fun with it, she said on leaving.
The round trip to Brussels last week was a pain. No interesting stories fell into my lap, and I did a lot of racing around without much benefit. It really annoyed me that I planned my Wednesday around the European Parliament’s research/energy committee and a presentation by Pablo Benavides, Director General for Energy, - only to get there at midday and discover the committee was meeting in camera. Benavides had asked the MEPs to brief then in secret so the public had been expelled. It is not as if Benavides can actually tell MEPs anything that is really secret because MEPs and their researchers are hardly the most trustworthy of . . .
Later. I stopped at that moment in the above para, having decided to write an editorial for the newsletter on the subject - which I’ve just finished - and now its nearly time to head for volleyball.
Monday 8 February 1998
It’s around 8am and I should be starting work on the newsletter, but I’m taking 10 minutes out to write a little more in the journal.
Enoch Powell died yesterday at 85. Lots of tributes to him. Nothing BBC news programmes like better than the death of a politician so they can ring round every other politician in their rent-a-quote telephone books. Unfortunately, Heath, who famously sacked him from the cabinet for his ‘Rivers of blood speech’, has refused to comment on his death (and the BBC is not shy to tell us so). I’m not surprised. Powell was a raving nationalist, and Heath saw a different world and must have found Powell a really irritating thorn in his side for decades. Some of Powell’s friends are suggesting he saw the sense of the market economy much earlier than anyone else, but Healey said he thought Powell’s monetarism did not run very deep. The fact is Powell took a very wrong turn early on in his political career and paid for it. History has never proved him right over the immigration question. Besides, I have always believed that any internal racial tension within our country and other Western countries, such as the US, Germany, France, are a necessary side effect of the necessary long-term integration of peoples so as to avoid large-scale racial conflicts in the future. I don’t know much about him but I suspect Powell’s nationalism was simply explained as a religious belief and that he was always more of a religious zealot than a politician.
England are holding their own in the second test match in Trinidad. Fraser got a magnificent 8 for something in the first innings, the best figures ever against the West Indies. On the last day, they need 100 or so and have five wickets in hand. Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 and could be in the championship running again if they win a couple more games on the trot. The Winter Olympics have started, but I haven’t had time to see any yet.
After volleyball last night (I still can’t get my digs right and I’ve a long way to go with the spikes) I watched the ‘McCallum’ episode I’d recorded last week. John Hannah plays the forensic pathologist; all the members of the path lab team are interesting characters with depth. The story lines are original, too. ‘McCallum’ is an ITV production, as is the other glossy and extremely enjoyable drama I’m watching at the moment - ‘Heat of the Sun’. Trevor Eve plays a detective in 1930s Kenya. The plots are intricate and play beautifully on the classical image of the ex-pat colonies. Eve, of course, is an enlightened policeman, as interested in the well-being of the blacks as the rich white. The love interest is played by Susannah Harker, who I’ve been infatuated with since I first saw her in ‘Chancer’.
In the last few weeks, I’ve also watched two serials - ‘Jake’s Progress’, and ‘Looking after Jo Jo’. The first by Alan Bleasdale, with Juliet Walters and Robert Lindsay, was a dissection of the relationship between a six-year old child, a failed rock star/house husband, and a more practical wife. By the end, there were rather too many unnatural deaths which weren’t really necessary, and the author/director took far too many liberties with the timescale than they should have done for such an authentic kind of drama. I found some of the language put into the mouth of the six-year old too adult (a writing fault) and I found some of the language used by the adults to the child over-reliant on the child’s understanding - the parents were always putting too much responsibility onto their child, expecting too much understanding from him (not a fault of the writing, but a good reflection of how adults do treat their children).
And so to ‘Jo Jo’, and the heroin trade in and around Glasgow tenements in the 1970s. Gritty drama from the BBC. Wonderfully acted and photographed. Although the backdrop of a huge Thatcher poster at the beginning and end of each episode put the drama into an age and a time, and indicated where blame might lie for the events of the drama, there was no attempt to take the drama outside of the day-to-day lives of the people involved (other than a little bit of police corruption, which did thrive under Thatcher) by engaging a wider framework of the social and political culture at the time. No, this was simply a drama about the desperate lives of poor people and how they found money and hope in drugs.
Tuesday 17 February 1998
Ads is off for half term. He’s spending most of the week with B, who’s taken a week off work to recuperate. But, yesterday, I organised a day’s walking for the two of us on the South Downs. We set off quite early and stopped in Midhurst for a quick walk to Cowdray Castle and through the town, and then a fry-up breakfast at the polo cafe, where we’ve been a number of times before. After that I made for Bignor, the start of an eight mile circular walk in one of my books. I parked on a narrow lane at a point where I thought there was plenty of room for cars to get by, and set off. About 50 metres on, I realised I’d forgotten something, so went back. An elderly man with his dog ran up to me and explained that huge grain lorries rumble through the village and wouldn’t be able to get past my car. So, I moved it a little further out of the village. I thought it wouldn’t matter because it was along the way of the walk, and we would find the car earlier on the way back. However, because I went wrong at the end, we had to walk the whole length out of the village, after the full circular walk. That sidetrack really wasn’t worth the words it took to write it down.
The weather has been unseasonably warm at the weekend (the hottest February day on record, in fact), and it was fine weather for our walk too, although the wind did pick up later, especially on top of the downs. The walk took us past millponds in Bignor itself, before crossing farm fields and finding the trail that zigzagged up through a wood to the crest of the downs. We had a mini-argument at the beginning of the walk because Ads was just walk along by my side, looking down at the ground and kicking stones. When I stopped he stopped, and when I started he started. Ads replied astutely to my nitpick, by saying that he was enjoying the walk very much and that it wasn’t going to be so nice if I was going to get cross all the time!
There were fine views from the top of the downs, across to the sea on occasions, with the sun glinting off the water in the far distance, and off the plains to the north of the downs, down towards Bignor and Sutton, where we had come from. The woodlands were delightful with their carpets of brown leaves and the soft vertical lines rising up to the crackle of empty branches. The most spectacular part of the walk, I suppose, was the long straight stretch along Stane Street, the old Roman road, with its agger and ditches often apparent, and a lining of old trees for much of its way. We stopped to play on a beam gate for a while, trying to hang upside down and do turnovers. We took photos with Stane Street in the background.
Occasionally, we stopped for refreshment, water or an apple; and we ate our lunch at the point where our walk met up with the South Downs Way, where there’s a car park and a well-known signpost with Londinium on. The wind was up by then, and the sun down, so we didn’t hang around for long. Soon after we started the downward descent back towards Bignor (where I went wrong, but I won’t go into that again - but it added more than a mile to our journey). After picking up the car, we drove on to Sutton where we found a pub and further refreshment. We also stopped for short while in Petworth to look around the shops - so many antique sellers, most of them seemingly upmarket and none of them very busy. And then home, both of us very tired. Although Ads was not too tired to go out roller skating later on.
At the weekend, I did quite a lot of digging in the garden, and I sanded and painted a first coat in the large bedroom.
We found a dead deer in the fern garden (on top of my last surviving cyclamen). We don’t know how it died. It’s head was turned back but I don’t know if that meant it had broken its neck or not. I did wonder about the wires I’ve strung up along the back there, but there was no sign of any damage to its neck. I was quite shocked to find it, and, at first, reluctant to go near it. Then, with Adam, I wrapped it in an old sheet and carried it into the holly wood, where I buried it and covered it with a mound of leaves. We nicknamed it Sunday, because we’d found it on Sunday. Ads said he would make a cross for it, but he hasn’t yet.
Sunday 22 February 1998
We are nearly at the end of ‘The Day of the Triffids’ by John Wyndham. I can’t say it has been an exciting read, and I’m not surprised Wyndham is out of fashion. The story does plod on, and there is very little characterisation, or emotional development. Last night on the radio I listened to a dramatisation of ‘The Kraken Wakes’, also by John Wyndham. I was surprised by how similar the story and characters were. I fell asleep before the end unfortunately, and I still don’t know how ‘The Triffids’ is going to end. As Adam rightly pointed out, the narrator and his friends are hardly going to die, but I can’t see them wiping out the triffids either. I suppose, a kind of Dutch elm disease could do the job. Much earlier in the book I thought the narrator would be responsible for finding some way of defeating them, but it’s nearly the end and he’s holed up in a farm just making ends meet and fending off the encroaching triffids.
Kofi Annan is in Iraq. The West (well the US and the UK) is piling on the pressure with dire threats of an attack if Saddam doesn’t reach a deal over the inspection of facilities. There has been a lot of debate in the press and on TV about the wisdom of bombing Iraq. Regular as clockwork out come Tony Benn and Tam Dalyell arguing vociferously that the West has no right to bomb Iraq - innocent people will be killed, the west hasn’t enforced other UN Resolutions etc. There is also little support out there in the world for a US bombing mission - most of the Arabs are against it (in public any way, in private they have probably given their tacit support to the Americans) and the EU has been unable to reach a common position because of the opposition between the UK and France. For my part, I know the US always, like any other nation, must act in its self-interest, but that does not mean to say that any given act is not of enormous benefit to other parts of the globe also. Yes, Israel does have weapons of mass destruction, but the point is quite clear - Iraq is an unstable regime, with an unstable leader, that could, at any time, make an unprovoked attack outside of his borders. So I do believe that the US and the UK, if they are willing to do something about it, should. It is more problematic to decide what to do and how to do it. Saddam will, of course, have hidden his worst and most secret weaponry, probably in the palaces that he has refused access to and which are right in among high population densities. I feel sure, though, that Saddam will make a deal with Annan. It will meet the inspection requirements but probably with some changes to the inspection team, i.e. less US personnel. I can’t quite see what Saddam has to benefit but he has made a big point of it in recent months.
I listened to a lecture by Gore Vidal on the radio last night. He argued that NATO has a US policy to expand its empire, and the cold war was almost entirely due to President Truman and his plans for US world domination. At least, I think that’s what he was saying, I didn’t listen to it all. I was too busy painting the first coat of lilac in the small bedroom and then I turned over to listen to ‘The Kraken Wakes’. I’ve a decorator coming in tomorrow to wallpaper the two bedrooms. I have to slip in, between his jobs, to give the paintwork a final coat in each room. Then, on 11 March, the carpets are coming. The curtains should be ready fairly soon too - I’ll get news about them today, as we are going to Hodford Road for lunch.
I’ve finalised the draft of my Sirius profile - I’ve asked for them to restrict introductions to women under 36. There’s no place on the forms to do so, but it does say, as part of the guaranteed 12 introductions, that they are based on age and regional requirements. The woman who came to visit me only wrote a few lines about me. She said I was intellectual, and would be interesting and stimulating company. I find myself quite intrigued as to the people I might meet.
30 February 1998
A quiet weekend. A little work in the office this morning. I’ve managed to complete the bulk of five chapters for the book in the last two weeks, which is just as well, because a publishing deadline of April or May had started to look very difficult. Several chapters are still unstarted, especially the difficult one on energy policy; and there are introductions and assessments still to do for almost every chapter. Still it’s reassuring to know that I can chomp my way through the work when I need to. I now know there is no chance of publishing both an energy and a transport book at the same time – Theo is working rather slowly on the transport chapters, only one a month, though this is quite understandable considering the complexity of the task I’ve asked him to perform.
It is still too early to tell how well the renewals are going to hold up for the transport newsletter. There were only four to renew in January, but some 25 in February. About half have been paid, only two cancelled.
Theo had a successful trip last week to Brussels. He interviewed a road safety expert in DGVII, who is apparently on good terms with Kinnock. He said Kinnock is so keen on road safety (he issued an action plan last year) because he’s been in two very bad accidents himself, one where he would have been killed without his safety belt, and one where his chauffeur was killed. (Don’t talk to me about safety belts, I got caught in a police blitz in Haslemere and was fined £20.)
I also painted, for the third time, the outside of the reglazed window frames, which I shall be able to rehang tomorrow. It cost me about £100 each to have new leaded lights put in the two sashes for the large bedroom. Clement Bros in Haslemere did them and they look a lot more professional than the one done for me by Milford Glass – I mean the lead sits much closer, much neater to the glass; while on the one done by Milford Glass I can see the line of cement between the lead and the glass. But what do I know? What I do know is that they are a pain in the neck. Not only have I had to pay out £100 each, but I’ve had to take them out of the casements and transport them to Haslemere, pin up plastic to stop the weather, and now I’ve had to prime and repaint the putty and frame edges. That’ll be three I’ve replaced, but there are several others that ought to be renewed.
Shopping at Secretts at lunchtime. The shop has a new butcher supplying its meat, and I don’t like it a bit. The sausages have monosodium glutamate in, for example, and they never have small packets of liver or steak on offer. I buy cheese, yeast, ham, cakes, vegetables for ratatouille – the usual stuff. To be happy at not doing the shopping, the cleaning, the cooking, I would have to have much more going on in my life, to the point where I really didn’t have time to do those things. But in my life as it is, these things come as useful light relief to my work, and I don’t know what else I would do with the time.
I’ve started on Stephen Pinker’s ‘How the Mind Works’ and ‘Figments of Reality’ by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. They are both about the same topic so it’s interesting to compare them. The latter is really irritating. It’s very populist in approach, and condescendingly so too often. It includes dialogues, as first utilised by Hofstader in ‘Godel Escher Bach’, but ones that are sickly – one for example makes reference to Mornington Crescent (the imaginary game used to great effect by really witty panellists in the radio programme ‘I’m sorry I haven’t a clue’) but its whole purpose is simply to outdo ‘I’m sorry I haven’t a clue’ at its own game. There are snatches of ideas and explanations which are worthwhile, and presented in interesting and original ways, but the authors’ constant self–reference is getting the better of me. Also, as with so many other writers who have had a go at this topic, they come from the wrong disciplines. The dominant of the two (well that’s my interpretation) is a mathematician and the other a reproductive biologist.
By contrast Pinker is the right sort of scientist – an expert in language and psychology. And his approach is more scientific, more basic, more worthwhile, rather than simply a regurgitating of other ideas. I haven’t got half way through either of them yet, but I suspect that Pinker’s book will be referred to and quoted for many years to come, as is his brilliant book ‘The Language Instinct’. Although, it started rather slowly, I can see that Pinker is bringing a huge chunk of common sense to the subject, and so far I’ve not found anything to disagree with. He has even gone some way to explaining to me, why I’ve always found Dawkins ‘The Selfish Gene’ so unsatisfactory. He’s also pulled Penrose to pieces, thank goodness, because I really hated his book. (It’s the only other book I can remember being touted in the same way as ‘Figments’ has been - I think they may have the same publisher, which would explain it.)
Incidentally, Pinker’s book was reviewed by a BBC2 show called ‘The Late Review’, I think, which is chaired by Mark Lawson, a man who is really spreading himself too thinly in my opinion. I think it such arrogance for these people - essentially art/literature world reviewers and commentators - to try and deal with a book like this. One of them gave a sensible critique - that it’s brilliant in parts but is overly ambitious and falls down badly in other parts - which seemed to echo other reviews. But the other two people, it seemed to me, hadn’t the faintest idea what the book was really about. And yet they had no compunction about giving their opinions - Tom Paulin, for example, said it couldn’t possibly be any good because it didn’t use philosophy, and he said it was a rag bag of populist ideas. That’s just patently wrong. I don’t think it is populist, actually, and does that mean he would be more comfortable reading a bare scientific text on the subject. And Suzanne Moore, a columnist on one of the daily newspapers, said she had trouble with the gene-centred deterministic approach, and revealed quite clearly that she was unable to distinguish between the different kind of explanations Pinker was putting forward. I doubt either of them had read more than a few pages at the beginning and the end. I saw an article suggesting ‘The Late Review’ was for the chop. About time.
Iraq is in the news again, and a military strike is looking increasingly likely. But what will they strike. Logically, the only targets would be the various palaces to which Saddam has refused access by the UN inspection teams. But mightn’t that release whatever biological or chemical agents he’s hiding. Nothing is likely to happen immediately because France and Russia still oppose military action.
Clinton’s escaped the Lewinsky evidence for the time being, and amazingly his popularity remains truly high for a President half way through his second term. It’s as though the vast majority of the people want to believe him, and so long as he can keep any concrete legal proof about his misdemeanours at bay, they will go on doing so.
Paul K Lyons
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